\. (di Simone Mazzata)

A BRIEF INTRO (in Italian)

Il suo sito internet “parla” già per lui. Michael J.Casey – già editorialista del Wall Street Journal, conferenziere, formatore, consulente – si dedica a tempo pieno alla blockchain, di cui è ritenuto uno dei maggiori esperti. Ha scritto vari libri, tra cui The Age of Cryptocurrency, con il collega Paul Vigna e ora, in Italia, è stato pubblicato il suo ultimo contributo, sempre insieme a Vigna: La macchina della verità (The truth machine), Franco Angeli (pp.357, € 30).

E’ un libro ricco, impegnato, “militante”, diremmo (nelle sue chiare posizioni contro l’amministrazione Trump e nella autentica passione civile). Un contributo completo per capire come sta avvenendo la rivoluzione silenziosa che è il web 3.0, l'”Internet del Valore”, quella innescata dalla tecnologia blockchain. E come, di fatto, questa rivoluzione affondi le radici nell’evoluzione stessa della storia umana, da Babilonia al Rinascimento italiano.

Personalmente, avverto in modo tangibile un entusiasmo un po’ eccessivo verso una tecnologia che, se tutto andrà bene, dovrebbe redistribuire le risorse sul Pianeta (a partire dai Dati), come mai nessuno è stato in grado di fare. Una specie di entusiasmo da “corsa all’Oro”, che altre volte nella Storia ha ribaltato le premesse (con internet stesso è successo esattamente questo). Però il lavoro di Casey è davvero un ottimo strumento per farsi, doverosamente, un’idea di un processo ormai irreversibile.

Dopo aver letto il libro gli ho posto alcune domande, soprattutto riguardanti il tema della fiducia (ho già scritto un dossier su blockchain a questo link, con un estratto dell’intervista). Lo ringrazio qui personalmente per il tempo che mi ha concesso, pur senza conoscermi. Tks, Michael.


  Michael, if we rely on Blockchain to recreate trust, is the human task exhausted?

We will never remove the need for human trust. Blockchains just resolve one layer of the trust problem — the sequencing of transactions, the record of our exchanges of value with each other. It’s a very important layer because that record-keeping function provides a foundation upon which we can enter agreements with one another. (And it’s not just transactions of money, by the way, it’s all exchanges of value — in the Internet age, it includes exchange of data). But once that foundation is established, we still need to figure out how to trust everything that happens “off chain:” for example, the person we’re dealing with, their commitment to follow through on what they are promising, and whatever external, off-chain sources of information we need to determine the execution of the obligations written into each contract. That source of information, in many cases, will still be a human. I see blockchain technology as an enabling platform, not a complete replacement of that human trust element. In fact, if we can fix the transaction-recording layer, perhaps it actually enables us to develop more trustful relationships with each other. It can free human beings up to be able to collaborate and coordinate. It can be a trust-building machine.

  Is there any risk of creating a “forced” trust, held together only for interests? What about “relational nature” of the human being?

I think what you’re getting at here is the immutable nature of transactions recorded in a blockchain, which I suppose you could say forces both parties to trust that the record is final and cannot be reversed. I don’t see this as being exceptionally restrictive, though. We are conditioned to think that if there is an error, or if there we agree some previous part of a deal should be change, we must amend the record. But the fact that you can’t do that with a blockchain doesn’t preclude us from resolving differences post-transaction. It’s just that you need a new transaction to reverse, or partially reverse, the previous one. All of that depends on human agreements, of course, just as it does in the case of agreeing to amend a record. 

   If web 3.0 is the Internet of value, can Blockchain also plays a role in identifying shared values for humanity, not just materials?

This is an interesting question. Value is anything that we collectively agree to be valuable. It is always a societal construct. Bitcoin is an example of this. Why does a bitcoin have value? Because enough people say it does? So, why not use these tools to capture all the other sources of non-monetary value that define the human experience. Certain element of social capital, for example, are already codified on the Internet. For better or worse, “likes,” “follower” numbers, etc. on social media give people a certain sense of value, even though there is no monetary payoff involved. If we can capture these other expression of value, make them tradable — so that they are directly related to social interaction and a reinforcement of values — we might be able to build constructive incentive systems that act in our shared interest. Many of us believe that this is the real potential power of token economics — that with blockchain-based tokens, a form of programmable value exchange, we can set commonly agreed rules that are embedded into the system of exchange. Perhaps we can incentivize environmental protection, for example, or charitable acts, by creating networks of non-monetary value exchange with automated smart contract that specifically perform to those social objectives. 

   I found a very optimistic opinion about Blockchain, almost like Smith’s “invisible hand” that solves every problem of the business and society… but web 1.2 and 2.0 failed: why do you believe that Blockchain could it work?

I like to say that the Internet’s “original sin” was that it did not solve the problem of trust for exchanges of value. We figured out how to transfer information directly with each other, without telecom companies and other middlemen intermediating that exchange. But then we discovered that when this involves anything value, such as money or valuable data, we couldn’t mediate those exchanges with each other. We once again need trusted third parties to step into the middle of our exchanges and keep the record on our behalf. And then as data essentially became the “currency” of the Internet 2.0 era, with massive amounts of valuable data being transferred by users to data aggregators, who turned that data into advertising dollars and other sources of revenue, economies of scale kicked in and the network effect benefits of using a single intermediary meant that the earliest movers dominated the entire web. It won’t be easy to break down the power of GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), because there are natural efficiencies that come with centralization and network effects. But whether it’s a blockchain solution or something that’s built on the same principles of distributed trust management, we at least now have a framework for resolving that original sin, a model upon which to build a new Internet architecture. It may take government action or other methods to force change upon these de facto “utility” behemoths, but I do believe we will eventually get there as the current situation, with the excessive rents they earn for themselves and the mistrust this is generating among the public, is untenable. 

  (An aside): I don’t think of blockchain as an invisible hand, solving all problems. It only solve the record-keeping function. The reason we see it relating to the “future of everything,” however, is that record-keeping is a vital component of all forms human value exchange. It has always been vital to civilization, from the earliest records of Babylon. What’s different is that we now have decentralized record-keeping. That’s a paradigm change that can affect everything.